Last Wednesday, seven New Yorkers, along with the advocacy groups Community Voices Heard and the Fifth Avenue Committee, sued the city for failing to implement Local Law 14, which was supposed to create a program to provide 7,500 welfare recipients with jobs. Passed by the City Council in April 2000 over the mayor’s veto, the law would allow participants to pursue educational and training opportunities while earning $7.50 an hour and maintaining their medical benefits.
Just one day later, Mayor Giuliani filed his own lawsuit–this time, against the City Council. The mayor now claims that Local Law 14 violates state law by breaching the city Department of Social Services’ authority to administer welfare funds and create welfare-to-work programs, as well as violating his own power under the City Charter. City officials did not return calls from City Limits. But in other statements, they have asserted that existing welfare-to-work programs are sufficient, noting that about 133,000 households have already stopped receiving benefits.
The law’s hostile reception in New York might surprise Philadelphia, where that city’s Transitional Work Corporation has been providing jobs and training for people on welfare for the last three years. Philadelphia’s program was one of several city-run efforts that provided a model for Councilmember Stephen DiBrienza when he drafted Local Law 14. Philadelphia advocates were able to get the city’s last two administrations to back them up. “We’d been fighting to expand the training and we worked with the mayor to create a series of programs. We had a lot of support,” said John Dodge of the Philadelphia Unemployment Project.
Supporters of the New York bill hope that a judge can understand that they’re only looking to create a program that has worked in other cities and can get people from welfare to work. “We are also asking, ‘What works for welfare?’ This is just a start. It’s not just about reducing the [welfare] rolls but really about helping people,” said Sarah Massey of the National Employment Law Project, the group representing the advocacy organizations suing the city.